Tuesday 17 October 2017

Hounded from home to a brave new world

'Then Jane said goodbye to her mother. She would never see her again. Nor see another autumn in her homeland, until her life had likewise entered that softly-lit season' (stock photo)
'Then Jane said goodbye to her mother. She would never see her again. Nor see another autumn in her homeland, until her life had likewise entered that softly-lit season' (stock photo)

Fiona O'Connell

Autumn is beautiful in the country, even during this season's sporadic downpours. For dripping trees sound evocative in the stillness of the landscape, especially in some scenic spots that seem to have barely changed over the centuries.

Like the little townland of Kilcross, where a poor Protestant girl called Jane was one of 18 children born in 1911 to a "useless farmer". She had never been further than this town, until the day she travelled the seven odd miles to its railway station.

"We only had a donkey and cart," Jane remembered, in a recording made by her son-in-law, Roger Buisson, in September 1999 when she was 88. "I think my sister, Harriet, might have come with us; she was 11. Billy says he came too. My mother drove us there."

Though what really drove this aunt of a local was religious persecution. As was clear when the interviewer asked about the decision that was made for her to leave Ireland.

"I think the decision was actually made for us by the IRA and the Sinn Feinians," she replied, without rancour. "Because it was a very bad time, in 1921, after the uprising. There was civil war in Ireland."

Jane was about 10 years old and staying in the head gardener's quarters in Flood Hall, one of the many Big Houses that would be destroyed by the war. She went to school from here and helped look after the gardener's wife, who was sick with cancer. Jane's sister was engaged to their son, Bill Graham, who was "very outspoken. He wasn't a Sinn Feinian; he belonged more to the other side, the English, maybe".

Which is how Jane ended up sitting on a board on the back of a donkey-drawn cart.

"One of the groups from either the Sinn Feinians or the IRA - I don't know which, I think they were mingled up in the end - they came and took Bill out of the house while I was there. They gave him a bashing and then threw him out the front gate, down the steps onto the grass. I was grabbing at their coat tails and yelling at them: 'Don't hurt him! Don't hurt him!' But he was told to get out of Ireland."

Jane's sister went first. To England, where she got work as a cook in Kent, before finding work for both her fiance and one of her brothers. Then it was Jane's turn "because there was nothing in Ireland for me. They got me a job, would you believe? I was all of 14 - 14 and three months, I think. They got me a job in a house in Putney, to put in my six months there".

For England was the first step to a new life in Australia. In those days, you had to stay there for six months before migrating.

So Jane went home to Kilcross, 'til another of her siblings, Annie, could come back from her job in England to collect her. "Because I wouldn't have known where to go. First time I'd been on a train. First time I'd been anywhere out of Thomastown."

Then Jane said goodbye to her mother. She would never see her again. Nor see another autumn in her homeland, until her life had likewise entered that softly-lit season.

Sunday Independent

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